This afternoon I attended the Singing Stones demonstration at the Teesdale Stone Festival. The Stone Festival, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, aims to raise the profile of the UK stone industry.
Teesdale is a hotbed for quarrying, stone cutting, walling and sculpting. The festival is the brainchild of Ewan Allinson, founder of the Stone Academy which was set up to bring stone apprenticeships back to the dale.
The Stone Academy draws upon the educational philosophies of John Ruskin who owned a stone instrument (similar to the one in the photograph) that was made by Joseph Richardson in the 1840s. The instrument can still be seen at Ruskin’s home ‘Brantwood’ in the Lake District, the source of much of the stone for the xylophones built for Leeds University’s ‘Resonating Stones’ project.
Researchers from the university explained how they visited various quarries in search of stones which both ‘ping’ and ‘zing.’ These two qualities are essential for stones to ‘ring’ when cut. They found 17 different ringing stones such as; limestone, Shap blue, green slate and marble. Ringing rocks were cut to mathematical formulas using diamond saws and filed to the right length to give different pitches to form sets of octaves. These were mounted onto ash and oak blocks secured with silica.
Although my ear is not pitch perfect (a music teacher once said I sang a perfect scale – only in my own key), it was interesting to listen to the different sounds created by playing the stone bars with beaters, thimbles and knuckles. Yes, knuckles!
Adult participants seemed to enjoy learning about geology through the medium of sound just as much as the children who the team normally teach to recognise stones by their resonances. The percussion instruments need a new home and are available for use by groups, societies etc. who would enable the public to continue learning about geology this way.
Singing Stones is just one event from the Stone Festival programme which runs until the 31st October. The festival is based at The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle. Details of other events can be found at www.stonefestival.wordpress.com.
You could try your hand at stone skimming, stone lifting, drawing on stone paper or having a go at sculpting your initials with mallet and chisel. This activity had groups of school children buzzing with excitement today.
Judith Lesley Marshall